Facemasks mandatory for shops in Northern Ireland as school return announced and pubs stay closed

Facemasks mandatory for shops in Northern Ireland as school return announced and pubs stay closed
First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the decision today. Picture: PA

Wearing face masks in retail shops and enclosed spaces will become mandatory from Monday, First Minister Arlene Foster has said.

Following an extensive Executive meeting, Stormont ministers also agreed to pause the reopening of pubs in Northern Ireland until next month.

The First Minister said the decision was taken because of the concern around the level of community transmission and the prioritisation of the reopening of schools.

“We have set a new indicative date of September 1,” she said.

“I want to acknowledge that the hospitality sector have been working very hard with us, they have been in partnership with us right throughout this issue and this is not a reflection on the hospitality sector, rather it’s a reflection on the fact that the R rate has risen, there is a rise in community transmission and we always said there is a need to work together to try and push that down.

“We have decided to make face masks mandatory in enclosed spaces where you can’t social distance, from Monday.

Retail workers will not have to wear masks, it’s those people coming in to the shops that we are asking to wear masks.

“It’s about trying to give confidence to people who feel vulnerable and maybe have been shielding and we are asking the public to work with us and listen to what we are asking them to do.”

Forty-three more positive cases of coronavirus have been detected in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said. The total number of people who have been infected is now 6,049.

No new deaths were recorded, leaving the total in the region at 556, according to official figures.

Addressing the decision not to open “wet pubs”, Ms O’Neil said the decision was made given the rise in community transmission and the R rate for Northern Ireland.

“There would be a sequential impact on opening pubs and then the knock-on impact on schools,” she said.

“Today we prioritised schools but we are also very alert to the fact that those people who were planning for the opening of their pubs on Monday will be anxious about what it means for them.

“They’ve also invested, so we are going to engage in the sector to see what we can do there in terms of supporting what is their new indicative date.”

Minister of Education Peter Weir said that all children will return to school by next month.

This includes pupils in special schools.

“This is a strategic prioritisation that the Executive has given to education, Mr Weir said.

“It is positive news for our parents, teachers and society as a whole, particularly for our young people that they will be able to fully access education.

“For years one to 10, they will be returning on the basis of protected bubbles of whole classes, and for years 11 to 14 try to minimise movement between classes. 

All the other protective measures that we have put in place and suggested to schools previously remain in place so we are looking after the health and safety of our young people.

“Full guidance will be issued to schools next week. The idea is to try and have the maximum level of social distancing, but the overriding issue is to ensure we have full classes.”

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